18 February 2010

Fingerboarding -timings

Several climbers have picked up on routines floating about the web advocating very short rest periods between sets on the fingerboard - like 6-10 seconds hanging with 3 seconds rest. They have compared it to notes in my book talking about 5-8 second hangs with more like a minute’s rest. Confused?
The regimens are very different because they are training completely different things. The former is an anaerobic endurance protocol. It replicates roughly what happens when climbing a route - hanging for some seconds on each move with only a few seconds rest as the hand reaches for the next hold. The rationale for using a fingerboard to do this type of endurance training is two-fold:
Because you can’t get to a real route or bouldering circuit to do this training more effectively. Or…
You already train a ton and need something that bit more intense to keep the body responsive.
Clearly both are a very specific and fairly rare set of circumstances. Most people can get to some real climbing, and they should do that instead because they need the technique element of the training every bit as much as the fitness. And very few are doing enough training to have squeezed everything out of the technique element and need a really intense stimulus to keep the body responding. If you do fit those above special cases, using the fingerboard in this way could be useful as a very intense way to build anaerobic endurance.
The majority of fingerboarders are doing it to gain strength. Gaining strength needs a high force stimulus - pulling at your maximum. If the rests are short, it’s not possible to sustain this - you get pumped and can’t pull your hardest. So that’s why you rest fully between sets and the sets are 90% plus of your maximum force.


Tom said...

What about muscle hypertrophy?
I thought repeaters (the anearobic endurance type of hangs) would lead to bigger forearm muscles, hence more strength.
And then in the next training phase do max hangs for recruitment.

Dave MacLeod said...

Tom - Thats not really the way muscle responds. recruitment is always the first thing to respond - it gets poorer in response to low force training (like anaerobic endurance training) and better in response to exposure to high, near maximal forces.

Hypertrophy happens after many months and years of exposing a muscle to a certain type of force. Anaerobic work causes mainly intermediate fibres to grow, with little change in large (fast twitch) fibres or slow twitch.

Anaerobic endurance training is not strength training. In fact, in most cases it will reduce strength. If you are used to campusing and then go sport climbing (anaerobic endurance) for a month, you come back much fitter but much weaker.

ktmt said...

I did hangboard repeaters (as popularized by Horst in "How to Climb 5.12") in training cycles for much of year a few seasons ago and this led to fantastic gains in anaerobic endurance and grip strength. I credit it with allowing me to break through a plateau into a new zone of difficulty. Horst suggests 3 to 5 second hangs with 5 second rests, repeat 5 times, rest a couple of minutes and go to next grip. Add or decrease weight to achieve failure in that 3 to 5 second range. Interestingly, I modified my hang duration based on a document I found here at your site, from your college thesis, I believe -? You noted a study that reported the typical hang-rest cycle observed in a climbing competition was 7 seconds hang with 3 seconds rest. When I changed my routine to that, I immediately felt a more realistic climbing burn and my gains accelerated.

For what it's worth, I used hangboard repeaters even though I had access to a climbing wall. They provide a highly-concentrated, efficient workout without the added complexity of movement or technique (which I train separately). The other thing I like is how controlled the training environment becomes: if I can add 3 more pounds during a specific grip before reaching failure in 7 seconds, I can assume I've gotten that much stronger. The variables are minimized and gains are easier to track.

One final word, however: your warnings (echoed by Ben Moon) to hang with slight bend in elbow should be taken seriously. I've battled considerable elbow tendinitis plus shoulder complications, and I suspect much of it can be attributed to incorrectly hanging straight-armed off the fingerboard.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the follow up. We all really appreciate the time you put into your blog.

Reeve said...

Hi Dave,
Just to echo what many people say, thanks for your time writing this blog. I often find it challenging of my preconceptions.
My first question is re your response to Tom re hypertrophy. What is the certain type of force which a muscle must be exposed to over months and years to develop (presumably) fast twitch fibres? And if I do anaerobic work, thus growing my intermediate fibres, what effect will I notice in my climbing? Will I feel stronger? Increase my muscle's capacity to handle lactic acid? Or just have bigger heavier guns?
Secondly, you state that recruitment will get poorer with endurance training. Is is possible to maintain it whilst endurance training (maybe by a few deadhangs at the start of each session, say)? I imagine (although this is purely specultation) that the body is capable of maintaining high levels of potential recruitment without having to use them all the time (I can deadhang then go to the fridge and hold an egg). Is there any truth to my speculation?
Cheers, Reeve

Ian Evans said...


Anaerobic training increases the time that your muscles can sustain high power output in the "anaerobic zone" (it will also increase your anaerobic threshold to some degree) -- the length of time that you can climb through a pump.

Functionally, this may make you feel stronger: you'll get less pumped getting to a crux and the crux will consequently feel easier.

But your strength/power when fresh won't be any better for it.

There's a mental element as well: you learn to fight through a pump, and this can actually increase the difficulty of movement you can complete when pumped out of your mind -- you effectively train yourself to try rather than say "I'm too pumped."

Reeve said...

Hi Ian,
Cheers for your reply. I understand anaerobic energy production in terms of climbing endurance, my original questions were pertaining to the effect that growing intermediate fibres, as result of anaerobic training (say repeaters), would have on strength, if any. Sorry for not making this clear. Dave said above that anaerobic work such as repeaters makes your intermediate fibres grow, and I suppose the essence of what I would like to know is "what will these intermediate fibres do for me?" Will bigger intermediate fibres mean I can pull harder (in absolute strength terms), endure more lactate, or something else.
Sorry for the confusion.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,
I'm similarly interested in Reeve's question. Some people advise lots of 10-15 move work with 2-4 minute rests (roughly equivalent to repeaters in time frames) for periods to build muscle rather than endlessly working recruitment. Apparantly this is also what some of the Spainish beasts do lots of (called 'anaerobic capacity' by some I believe) - effectively a base training for strength. I know weight lifting websites usually advocate limiting recovery times to achieve max. hypertrophy, do you not think this applies to climbing, or is it that this muscle building is these (less useful?) intermediate fibres which we don't want so much?

Jolli said...

A comment and a bit disagreement on the hangboard topic:

Repeaters WILL work your hypertrophy or maximum strength if done in a certain way. The body won´t recognize reps but the time spent under he stress so this thing decides if you train strength or endurance abilities.

So you don´t have to hang for only "hang less than 10 secs" to gain strength.

You CAN use repeaters for max recruitment by using short reps and a short total work time per set (amount of repeats).

One easy example:
3 times 3 sec hangs with 7 sec rests in between. The rest between the sets is kept "long" so no pump buildup during the workout. Of course the hangs are very close to max. This can be compared a bit to powerlifting peaking phase where you do sets around 1-3 reps with over 90% of your 1 rep max.

For hypertrophy the work time should be kept between 30 and 50 secs. So an example set would be:
8 times 6 sec hangs with 4 sec rests in between. The rest between the sets is kept "shorter" to allow 3-5 sets per grip type. A pump is a good thing.

You can compare this to bodybuilding: The force must be high enough to target the fast fibres more but rep amount must be high (not too high) too. So, hypertrophic training must be a bit anaerobic but with high enough load. Shorter rests make this more a muscle building than a neural workout without being too much of an anaerobic thing yet.

Finally: The anaerobic endurance is trained better when the work time goes over a minute and preferably more close to 2 minutes per set.

An example: 12 times 10 sec hangs with 5 sec rests in between. The rest is kept "less than adequate" to force a deep painful pump in 3-5 sets.

The "one rep only" hangs work well on strength too but the problem comes usually in too small volume for hypertrophy. Usually people hang these too hard hangs creating plateaus for maximal strength.


Royce said...

hey everyone,

the gripe i have with strength fingerboard workouts is when you're holding fingery holds for potentially only a few seconds (because you litterally cant hold on any longer), you're at your absolute limit, and i believe it's the limit of tendon not so much muscle strength. The concept of pushing till failure just doesn't seem appropriate with tendons, so i always get frustrated about exactly when to stop the deadhang, which makes it tough to get a system in place. the closer i get to failure, the more i feel like i could tweak something. given this, what does "how long you can hold a hold" mean, objectively, if you arent "going till failure"!?

if you guys have any ideas about that, id love to hear them.

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